Life in the text lane...

Who reading this article is guilty of using their phone whilst walking and in particular crossing busy roads? GUILTY. Though we claim that our lives are getting busier and busier, we still find time to mindlessly check facebook and instragram numerous times a day.  In fact, recent studies have shown that people check their phones up to 150 times a day (Woollaston, 2013). And as we are so time poor, many people carry out the unsafe habit of texting whilst on the move. This is leading to a rise in the amount of unnecessary injuries due to distracted people walking into trams, cars, bikes and other pedestrians. In 2013, a study at the Ohio State University found that distracted walking injuries in the US are rising fast, with, 1506 recorded in the US emergency rooms in 2010, up from 256 in 2005 (Benedictus, 2014).

To combat this issue, Washington DC undertook a social experiment trialling a ‘phone lane’, which involved dividing the footpath into lanes marked 'no cellphone' on the left and 'cellphones: walk in this lane at your own risk' on the right (AFP, 2013). Unfortunately, the social experiment failed, with mobile phone users walking where they liked. And if they did notice the line markings, taking a selfie with it. The idea was also implemented in Chongqing City, China, however, it was reported that people didn’t particularly pay attention to the signage and were walking freely into traffic on the road.

In Melbourne, there have been several accidents where distracted phone users have been hit by trams or cyclists. So what is the solution? As a social experiment the ‘phone lane’ failed. But lets be honest, how is a lane without barriers going to stop a distracted person on their smart phone from walking into danger.

Perhaps it is a matter of redesigning the street to be more like a bowling alley with the bumper bars up, so like the bowling ball, people can’t stray off course.  Perhaps we could put electric fences up along the kerb so that people get a zap before they step out across the road.

On a more serious note, perhaps there should be a fine introduced for people texting whilst crossing roads. The Utah Transit Authority has introduced a $50 fine for distracted walking in the vicinity of trains (Benedictus, 2014).

Or, perhaps an app needs to be invented that warns you of danger ahead, vibrating when you’re about to hit something (Benedictus, 2014). Genius. What do you think?

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By Julia Bell, Senior Urban Designer


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